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My Life

Chapter VI: Interlude

Chapter VI: Interlude

After a wonderful time in Sydney, during which I was entertained by the leading clubs and societies and a reception held for me at Parliament House by the Premier of New South Wales and members of the Cabinet, I visited Brisbane and Melbourne, where the enthusiasm and hospitality equalled that of Sydney. A luncheon was given in my honour at Canberra by Mr Lyons, Premier of the Commonwealth, and his Ministers, and I returned to Sydney to take the ship to my home in New Zealand. Much as I should like to have flown on to my homeland, it was quite impossible in the tiny, low-powered Moth, with its range of only 800 miles. The Australian flyer Flight-Lieutenant Charles Ulm was a fellow-passenger on the ship, and we used to have long talks about the great part aviation would play in linking up our respective countries with England and America. Little did I realize that within six months gallant Charles Ulm was to perish in the Pacific wastes while on an attempt to span the Pacific from America to Australia.

A great welcome awaited me on our arrival in New Zealand, and I was glad to be home again. All the boatspage 83in the Auckland harbour were decked with streamers and bunting, bands played, and the streets were packed with cheering crowds. I was made a guest of the New Zealand Government, and amid scenes of tremendous enthusiasm at the civic reception in Wellington the Prime Minister, Mr Forbes, announced that the Government wished to show its appreciation in a practical manner, and that I was to receive a grant of £500. My aeroplane was taken off the ship, where it had perched with wings folded on a hatch of the U.S.S. Aorangi during our voyage from Sydney. In the company of a New Zealand Air Force aeroplane which the Government had sent to escort my own I commenced a six weeks' tour of my homeland. During my stay in Wellington I had been a guest of the Governor-General and Lady Bledisloe, who were wonderfully hospitable. They were both present at the aerodrome to see me take off for the South Island. The flight round New Zealand gave me a wonderful opportunity of studying flying conditions and the progress of aviation in the Dominion, and I landed at over twenty towns during the course of the tour. At most places I found an aero club and many enthusiastic pilots, both men and women.

New Zealand is a most fascinating country to fly over, but I had never before realized what a very mountainous country my homeland is. The scenery of the North Island differs greatly from that of the long South Island, and beyond the rich pasture-land stretch great mountain ranges heavily timbered and covered with the dark green sub-tropical foliage of the native bush. Thepage 84island is of volcanic origin, and Rotorua, my birthplace, is situated, as I have mentioned, in the centre of the thermal region, where there are many mineral springs, pools of boiling mud, and geysers. This region extends over an area about a hundred miles long by twenty wide. Some one once aptly remarked at a dinner given in my honour that it was most appropriate that I should be born in this thermal district, as everything there was sure to go up into the air at some time or another. The view of this region from the air is most majestic, and not far away the snow-covered mountains of Ruapehu, Tongariro, and Ngarahoe thrust their great peaks into the sky, towering above the surrounding country. Although all three are snow-covered, Tongariro and Ruapehu, which towers to 9000 feet, are now quiet, but Ngarahoe still smoulders in suppressed anger and emits a pennant of smoke from his crater.

The big South Island is different again, although Nature was just as lavish with her gifts, and the magnificent splendour of the scenery in both islands is beyond description. The mighty Southern Alps form the backbone of the South Island, rearing their majestic snow-covered peaks to the clouds. On the western side of the island several giant glaciers press towards the sea, and at the base of the Alps Nature has thrown a luxuriant mantle of dark green forest. Here tall trees rise above the dense undergrowth, and fairy-like ferns and starry white clematis grow in profusion, and the tui, bell-bird, and the rest of the shy bird family compose symphonies in the solitude. The vast Canterbury Plains form apage 85striking contrast on the eastern side of the Alps, and the rich pasture-land, reminiscent of England, extends from the mountains to the sea. In the centre of the southernmost part of this island are a cluster of lakes that vie with each other for sheer beauty. From a height of 10,000 feet in winter they resembled a number of uncut sapphires thrown at random on the carpet of snow that lay right down to the water's edge. They all bear Maori names. Manapouri, Te Anau, Wakatipu, Wanaka, and Hawea are the largest, and some of them are more than 1500 feet deep.

Crossing Cook Strait on the first day of the flight I saw that all the great ranges were mantled in white. It was terribly cold flying in an open aeroplane during July, which is mid-winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Even the foothills were carpeted with snow, and as far as my eye could see there stretched snow-covered ranges which in the interior rose to such heights that their summits were lost in the clouds. When I landed at Christchurch I found the sheltered plains were clear of snow, but farther south the whole country was mantled in white.

During the tour I had the interesting experience of taking an old lady aged 101 years for a flight. She was one of the earliest pioneers, and clearly remembered the arrival of the first Governor of New Zealand, Governor Hobson, in 1840. The old lady had a great sense of humour, and remarked to me that she had flown when much younger. On being asked at what age she had first flown she laughingly remarked, "Oh, only ninety-nine."page 86In such a mountainous country it is not to be wondered at that some of the roads and the railways which spiral up mountains, go through unbelievably long tunnels, and bridge giant chasms and gorges are great feats of engineering. All the main towns are linked by rail, although, for the size of the country, comparatively speaking there are not a great number of railways. With the exception of the excellent thoroughfares in the cities and on the plains, the majority of the roads, owing to the nature of the country, are tortuous and winding and sometimes very steep. Because of these facts and the time taken to traverse difficult country there is a very big future for aviation in New Zealand. Apart from its importance from a defence point of view, aviation has tremendous commercial possibilities. The main cities are widely separated, and the fact that the country is divided by Cook Strait enhances the value of aviation as a means of transport, not only of mails and passengers, but also of freight. Using surface transport a person wishing to travel from Auckland to Dunedin, a distance of approximately 800 miles, is obliged to make a long and tedious journey. First there is a long journey by train to Wellington, then a trip by steamer across Cook Strait to Lyttelton, near Christchurch, then another long train journey for the rest of the way to Dunedin. By air line it is now possible to combine speed with comfort and make this journey in a few hours. The fleet of modern air liners which operates between the main towns not only enhances the prestige of the Dominion in the aviation world, but also fills a long-felt want for speedy transport. The operating companies

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The tour proved to be as enjoyable as it was strenuous, and during the six weeks I made approximately a hundred and fifty speeches. In addition to flying to the various places I attended many banquets held in my honour. I was entertained by civic authorities, aero clubs, rotary clubs, and various women's clubs and sports associations and societies, visited schools to address the scholars, and also found time to visit many hospitals. At the conclusion of the tour I decided to revisit Rotorua, my birthplace, and take a much-needed holiday. During my stay a hangi or native feast was held in my honour by the Maoris at the village of Whakarewarewa. On my arrival I was met by the famous guide Bella Papakura, and entered the village through the great carved gateway, on which was the word Haremai ("Welcome"). Before the reception I was taken to see the preparations for the feast. In the centre of a clearing Maoris were busily engaged placing wood on a fire which burned fiercely beneath a large heap of stones. When they were red-hot the wood was removed and water dashed on the stones to clean them. Taking the meat which was to be cooked they laid it on wire-netting over the stones, then threw a large cloth over all. Quickly the stones were covered with earth, until all that was to be seen was a large mound. The kumeras, a variety of sweet potato, were prepared in similar fashion, and it was not until some hours later that the earth was removed. In the beautifully carved nativepage 88meeting-house the chief of the Arawa tribe, Mita Tau-popaki, greeted me in true Maori fashion and in the poetic language of his race. Placing a rare greenstone Tiki (Maori god) round my neck he said that the Maori people would always think of me as the shining gem of New Zealand. After the native songs and dances of welcome the feast was held. The meat and kumeras were served in little plaited flaxen baskets, and every one thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

About this time an air race from England to Australia was being organized in connexion with the Melbourne centenary celebrations. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the race, and aeroplanes from many different countries were entered. The race was scheduled to start on October 20, 1934, from Mildenhall Aerodrome, Suffolk. I planned to be in Melbourne to see the finish of the race, which promised to be a very thrilling one, as there was just that spice of international rivalry so necessary to the success of such an event. On my arrival in Sydney I received an offer to visit Melbourne and broadcast a commentary on the race* for a network of radio stations. This proved to be not only interesting, but very hard work. My first broadcast was from the Melbourne Town Hall just after the competing aeroplanes had left England, and for the next ten days I gave several broadcasts each day on the progress of the various competitors.

Unfortunately a number of entrants withdrew, and Australians were disappointed that Sir Charles Kingsford Smith was not able to compete. However, twenty entrants started from England. On the first day there

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Black and white photograph of Jean Batten performing a hongi with a Maori elder.

A Maori greeting
Photo C. Troughton Clark, Rotorua, N.Z.

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Black and white photograph of Jean Batten at the controls of her aeroplane.

Taking off for England
Photo Topical Press
[See p. 95]

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were many surprises and thrills: several machines were forced down in France with bad weather, and the American entrant, Miss Jacqueline Cochran, and her co-pilot gave up at Budapest. Others retired for various reasons, Mr and Mrs Mollison with a Comet abandoning the race in India. After the first day it became increasingly apparent that the race was between Charles Scott and Campbell Black, flying a De Havilland Comet, and the Dutch competitors Parmentier and Moll, in a Douglas, closely followed by Roscoe Turner and Clyde Pangbourne, in a Boeing.

As the 'planes neared Australia the interest became greater and the excitement intense, and as I sat at the microphone broadcasting, telegrams and cables would be handed to me stating the positions of the various competitors. Two airmen crashed in Italy and were killed, and a machine flown by the Dutch pilot Geysen-dorfer caught fire at Allahabad, fortunately without loss of life.

In the amazing time of a few minutes under three days Charles Scott and Campbell Black, flying the Comet, were first to flash past the winning line at Melbourne, and an immense crowd of people assembled to see them land. I clung gallantly to my microphone, and tried to continue the broadcast as calmly as possible as the great crowd, pushing and jostling, surged forward towards the Comet. I was one of the first to greet the winning airmen, and at a special broadcast had the pleasure of introducing them to Australian listeners on our network of radio stations.

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Crowds waited all night for the arrival of the Dutch pilots, and I remember sitting on the wheel of a Moth machine in a hangar waiting patiently to broadcast the landing. Shortly after midnight the news came through that the Douglas had landed on a racecourse in frightful weather and would fly on the following day. It was not expected, however, that they would be able to start so early, and when I received a telephone message to go to the aerodrome and broadcast the landing they were already nearing Melbourne. I had overslept considerably that morning, so, hastily dressing and forgoing breakfast, I drove as quickly as possible to the aerodrome. As I sped along at over seventy my spirits sank, for in the distance I saw the giant silver machine circling the aerodrome to land. Dashing through the gates, scattering the surprised sentries, I left the car and quickly ran to the tarmac. Arriving breathlessly just as the hangar doors closed behind the Douglas I was just in time to hear the announcer, who had been frantically trying to fill in time until my arrival, say, "And now, ladies and gentlemen, here is Miss Jean Batten, who will give you a graphic description of the landing." As I tried to regain my breath and give a vivid account my rivals, shaking with amusement, nearly split their sides laughing.

Later, however, I made what we considered a big coup. Immediately each competing aeroplane landed it was wheeled into the hangar, where the handicap times were checked. All doors were guarded, and no Press representatives or radio announcers admitted. Receiving an invitation to meet the Dutch pilots, I arrangedpage 91for the electricians to run the leads up to a small window. Once inside the sanctity of the hangar I climbed on to a work-bench, and the precious microphone was handed to me through the window. Imagine the thrill all my listeners received when I announced that Messrs Parmentier and Moll would speak over our stations. These two pilots were great sports, and I asked Parmentier to speak in Dutch and Moll to translate what he said into English. The big Boeing machine was given third place. The chief pilot, Roscoe Turner, reputed to be a lion-tamer, was a veritable hero with the children, who liked his colourful uniform. He used to carry a walking-stick made of a complete lion's tail everywhere he went.

The only person flying solo in the race was Jimmy Melrose, the young Australian pilot, who flew out in eight days to win the handicap prize.

I continued my broadcasts for some days after the arrival of the winning Comet, then had the pleasure of flying to Sydney in the Douglas, piloted by Parmentier and Moll, with Roscoe Turner, Clyde Pangbourne, and a few other people as passengers.

An air-mail service was to be commenced between Australia and England, and I flew my Moth to Brisbane to be present at the inaugural ceremony, which was performed by the Duke of Gloucester.

The Jubilee of King George V was to take place in May 1935, and I decided to fly to London to witness the wonderful pageant. I thought very deeply about buying a new machine for the flight, or at least a new engine, but decided instead to have a complete overhaul carriedpage 92out and to conserve the engine as much as possible during the flight. It was quite capable, I thought, of taking me safely back to England in reasonable time. Once there I would be in a better position to purchase a new machine for the flight I was even then planning to South America.

Before leaving Australia for England I returned to New Zealand to say good-bye to my people. Imagine my surprise when on driving to the boat I saw contents bills flaming the words "Will Jean Batten marry?" Quite dazed, I stopped the car and purchased a paper. There were all the details of my recent engagement laid bare in black and white. It appeared that a rumour had been circulated that I was flying back to England to be married. Before leaving England I had become engaged, but on arrival in Australia realized that I should have to choose between matrimony and my career. What made the situation rather difficult on this occasion was that my fiance had been interviewed in London about the reason for my forthcoming flight a few days before receiving my letter suggesting that we should break off our engagement. I really felt that if I married at this stage I could not devote myself so wholeheartedly to the programme I had planned for the next few years. Not that my fiance actually objected to any further flights. Quite the contrary was the case, for he had given me vital help after the forced landing in Rome. I was able to repay him a few days after my arrival in Sydney when I cabled the amount I had borrowed. Now that I had tasted the fruits of success and felt the urge to rise to even greater heights, any responsibility,page 93however light, that would in any way hinder or deter my progress was not to be considered. In short, I suppose ambition claimed me, and I considered no sacrifice too great to achieve the task I had set myself.

From the day when I had my first flight I had been fired with the idea of making the first direct flight from England, the heart of the Empire, to New Zealand, my own country, and the farthest-flung Dominion. My flight to Australia made me realize that I would not be satisfied merely to fly out, taking a long time over the flight. If I were able to accomplish that flight I wanted to demonstrate the practical value of aerial travel between the two countries so widely separated. This could only be achieved by a rapid flight reducing the four to five weeks taken by ship by a handsome margin. To attain this I would need not only a great deal more long-distance flying experience, but also a fast modern aeroplane capable of nearly double the speed of my trusty Moth, which was then nearly six years old.

The flight to Australia had not been a great financial success, but I had managed to clear expenses, and by doing a lecture tour of New Zealand was able to pay off most of my debts. The New Zealand Government had given me, as previously stated, a grant of £500, and I decided to put this towards the purchase of a new machine, although it would be whittled to a forlorn £375 by the exchange when turned into sterling. By lecturing, broadcasting, waiting, giving passenger flights, and advertising various products I managed topage 94put some money aside for my dream aeroplane. If I were able to fly successfully back to England I thought it might be possible to sell the Moth; then I should just about have enough sterling to buy a new machine.

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